On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

“I’m not telling you a story so much as a shipwreck – the pieces floating, finally legible.” (190)

I had this book on order from my local library for weeks before I could get my hands on it and so I’d read some reviews and my expectations were mixed. I’d read Night Sky with Exit Wounds and I’d had a mixed response to the poems. “Immigrant Haibun” was brilliant; I read it several times, wrote it out and read it out loud. Beautiful but others left me cold. Stark language yes but I wasn’t always able to bridge the gap between the poem and the reader. And I sometimes felt this way with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Some of the moments were so vivid I wept, not out of sadness but out of something else, something quite difficult to put my finger on. It’s like nothing I’ve read before but, then again, like everything I’ve read before. I found myself stopping to write out a quotation, to reread a section, to read a sentence out loud, to feel it on my tongue. It was poetic and probably even poetry. And it definitely wasn’t story.

It was lament. Little Dog is othered in so many ways that you can’t help but connect to his disconnectedness. Small, immigrant, non-native English speaker, fatherless, gay, articulate, millennial, small-town and on and on. We may connect with his disconnectedness and his search for connection but it’s hard to connect with him. The whole novel is narrated through his letter to his mother, who cannot read the letter, but still we feel so distant from him, kept at arms length, and that’s how he wants it. So many deaths and losses, we feel he can’t deal with any more and closeness opens him up for more loss.

“Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.” (4)

‘The truth is one nation, under drugs, under drones” (183)

There’s a cynicism in the text that aligns with Little Dog’s experiences. His search for freedom, his search for truth they are worth your time. The text is beautiful. The writing will stay with you – eat away at you. Cup it in your hand and treasure it as Little Dog clearly does in the telling.

 

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